Drickamer, Harry G. (1918-2002) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Drickamer, Harry G. (1918-2002)

Historical Note:

Harry George Drickamer (1918-2002) was assistant professor (1946-49), associate professor (1949-53), and professor of chemical engineering (1953-89), head of the Division of Chemical Engineering (1955-58), professor emeritus (1989-2002), and professor of chemical engineering, chemistry, and physics at the Center for Advanced Study (1989-2002) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He was a pioneer in pressure tuning studies and his innovative research contributed to scientific understanding of the physics and chemistry of solids.

Drickamer was born Harold George Weidenthal in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 19, 1918. His father died when he was young, and he was adopted by his stepfather. He earned a B.S.E. (1941), a M.S. (1942), and a Ph.D. (1946) from the University of Michigan. He undertook his doctorate studies while working at the Pan American Refinery Corporation in Texas City, Texas, (1942-46), moving back to Michigan for the spring semester in 1946 to complete his degree. That same year (1946), he accepted a position at UIUC. Over the course of his career, he published more than 450 original scientific papers. Drickamer was "the first to use infrared and UV-vis spectroscopy to study matter at high pressure, thereby discovering that high pressure perturbs different types of electronic orbitals to different degrees" (Dept. of Chemistry). His research "contributed to the understanding of widely ranging scientific problems such as the band structure of solids, the insulator-conductor transition, the spin states of magnetic ions and denaturation processes in proteins" (Kloeppel). He conducted materials research for the US Department of Energy (DOE) and helped to found the Materials Research Laboratory on UIUC campus.

Drickamer was widely recognized for his work, receiving the American Physical Society's Oliver E. Buckley Solid State Physics Award (1967), the American Chemical Society's Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry (1987), Robert A. Welch Award (1987), the National Medal of Science by President George H. W. Bush (1989), and the Department of Energy Award for Outstanding Sustained Research (1989), among others. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Drickamer married Mae Elizabeth McFillen in 1942, and they had five children. He died on May 2, 2002, in Urbana, Illinois.


"Drickamer, Harry G. (1918-2002)," Department of Chemistry (UIUC), accessed May 14, 2020, https://chemistry.illinois.edu/spotlight/faculty/drickamer-harry-g-1918-2002.

James E. Kloeppel, "Harry Drickamer, pioneer in pressure tuning studies dies," Illinois News Bureau, May 7, 2002, accessed May 14, 2020, https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/208053.

Wikipedia, s.v. "Harry George Drickamer," accessed May 14, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_George_Drickamer.

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